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Promotion of Access to Information – is your manual ready?

28 November 2011 Mazars

The deadline for businesses to submit their manuals on how to access their records, as required by the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000 (PAIA) is fast approaching.

In terms of the Act, all businesses, from small to large, as well as individuals and partnerships carrying on business, must compile and submit their PAIA manuals to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) by 31 December this year, in both electronic and hard copy forms.

The Act was promulgated to give practical effect to the constitutional right of access to any information held by public or private bodies, including individuals, which is required in order to exercise or protect any other right.

“Businesses also have to make the manual available at their company offices and on their websites, and update it with any material changes on a regular basis,” says Marc Edelberg, partner at audit, tax and advisory firm Mazars.

The content of the manual, as prescribed in Section 51 of the Act, comprises of:

a) the postal and street address, phone and fax number, and if available the email address of the head of the business;

b) the description of the guide compiled by the SAHRC and how to access it;

c) the latest notice regarding the categories of records of the business that are available without having to request access in terms of PAIA;

d) a description of the records the business keeps in compliance with any other legislation;

e) enough information to assist you in making a request for access to a record;

f) a description of the subjects on which records are held and the categories of records held on each subject; and

g) any such other information as may be prescribed.

The Act also requires public bodies to compile and submit a PAIA manual with similar information. In addition, they are required to provide information on their structure and function, on how to access records, a description of the services they provide and how to access them, a description of how one could either consult, make representation to or participate in the formulation of policy, and action to be taken if the information officer refuses to give access to information.

“Unlike the manual for private bodies (businesses), a public body’s manual must be prepared in three of the official languages.”

Given the above, the conclusion that has been drawn by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) is that all private and public bodies have to review their submitted PAIA manual and update where necessary.

Prior to the current Act, certain private companies and other bodies were exempt from compiling and submitting manuals. However, this exemption no longer applies and any natural person or juristic entity that carries on a business is required to compile and submit their manual timeously. SAICA recommends that even if a business submitted a previous manual prior to 2007, they re-submit it, even if there are no changes to the manual.

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